News / Middle East

Egypt Struggles to Define 'Free Speech'

Egypt Struggles to Define 'Free Speech'i
|| 0:00:00
February 19, 2013 2:50 PM
Egyptians are struggling over whether limits should be placed on free speech, one of the many rights people fought for in their uprising two years ago. VOA's Elizabeth Arrott has more from Cairo.
Egypt Struggles to Define 'Free Speech'
Elizabeth Arrott
From online activism to protests in the street, Egyptians have exercised their right to free speech over the past two years in ways unimaginable even in the recent past.

But novelist Alaa el-Aswany believes that sense of freedom is illusory, with the government of President Mohamed Morsi pursuing its own agenda.

"The formula is the following: you write whatever you want, I'm going to do whatever I want," says el-Aswany.

He believes the current leadership has cracked down even more than ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

"Mr. Morsi brought about 10 writers to the court who were accused of insulting the president. He did that in like four months, six months," el-Aswany says. "Mubarak, in 30 years, he did that three times."

It's not just insults to political leaders that prompt a reaction. A U.S.-made video impugning Islam's Prophet Muhammad set off an attack on the American Embassy and brought death sentences, in absentia, for the Egyptians who made it.

An Islamist view of free speech can differ dramatically from the concept embraced in the West.  

Safwat al-Ghani, of Gama'a Islamiya, says there is a different understanding of freedom. He favors freedom which is controlled by “respect for sacredness and the conventions of Islam.”

That view has wide support in this deeply religious country. But for many, protection for political figures is another matter.

Political satirist Bassem al-Youssef is one of Egypt's most popular comedians, but prosecutors don't find his mocking of the president so amusing.

Yet the investigation backfired. The spotlight turned on the prosecutors, and after much public ridicule, they dropped their case.

Publisher Rania al-Malki says the government needs to ease up. "Once you become the ruling administration, you've got to have more tolerance for people like Bassem Youssef."

But while she sees free speech flourishing now, she's concerned about the undefined future, especially in laws likely to be drafted through the prism of Islamism.

"We have a situation here where the constitution has mandated the creation of two new bodies to regulate the media," al-Malki says. "But we have no clue what that is going to entail."

Across the region, post-revolution states are redefining the rights and freedoms of their citizens. As the Arab world's most populous nation, Egypt might set the standard that others will follow.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
February 20, 2013 1:40 AM
Human Rights & Freedoms do not have COMPASS preferences.

by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
February 19, 2013 7:46 PM
Freedom of speech is alien to most Moslem countries, Arab countries and in the Middle East. Since most of the countries are ruled by dictators and emerging democracies, everything is under the Moslem guidelines of the seventh century. Even in the so called secular democracy of Turkey, freedom of speech and expression are illusive. There is no tolerence towards ethiests, other religions, freedom of speech and self expression. Criticising or making fun of the rulers is a crime in these countries. Some rulers claim they are even incarnations of God just like the pharoahs of Egypt. Even in non-Moslem countries the rulers used religion to enhance their power. Making fun or joke of Allah or Moslem religion by believers or non believers will enrage the mullahs and clerics with fatwa to kill the person over-riding the rulers. The rule of law does not exist in most Moslem countries. It is only the rule of clerics that exist in these countries.

The root cause of all this preoccupation by the relgion and rulers is because of lack of eductaion, especially the women. Women's right to eduction, ware whatever they want, work wherever they want, go anywhere they want without a male escort or at least drive a car in public are constrained by the edicts of the clerics tolerated by the rulers.

If the rulers cannot control the public, the rulers use religion as a weapon. If both the rulers and the clerics fail to restrain the freedom of speech, there comes protests originating from the mosques. If Ayatollah rules Iran, the Moslem clerics rules other Moslem countries with the tacit approval of rulers. If the clerics and the rulers cannot control the freedom of speech, they incite their followers to attack the individuals, other beliefs or religions or people of the any kind of opposing view.

Why all the political protests in the Moslem countries occur on fridays after prayers at the mosques? Mosques are not only the place of worship, but also the center of politics instigated by the clerics of opposing religious and political beliefs. But even the protests for freedom originating from the mosques does not produce or ensure freedom of speech as known in the western countries.

by: ali baba from: new york
February 19, 2013 7:43 PM
freedom of speech, separation of church from state ,and democracy are western ideas. .these ideas can not exist in Islamic state. freedom speech can be interpreted that each imam can produce fatwa to kill..Islam is the state. any idea does not match with Islam is automatically rejected. democracy in middle east is the fancy and hallucination of American writer

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs